Silent Suffering: Why Your Customers Don’t Contact You


by Roy Atkinson
April 4, 2018

Recently, an HDI member who is a senior IT manager asked a troubling question: Why do end users or customers ignore issues and continue to suffer, rather than contact support and get the issues addressed?

What we know from the HDI 2017 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report is that 64 percent of customers (or end users) contact support. Now it may be that some get through an entire year without ever having a reason to get support or ask a question, but 36 percent of your user base is too large a percentage to write off and say, “They’re fine.” This especially holds true when our friends at MetricNet tell us that the average is from 1 to 2.5 tickets per user per month, largely depending on industry.

So, what is keeping a large portion of our workforce from taking advantage of the services the support center provides? To a great degree, it is the phenomenon known as friction.

Friction in service is very much like friction in physics: It causes us to exert more effort than we otherwise would. To put it simply, friction is the difficulty we encounter when we need service. Here is how one employee answered the question about why she didn’t contact support to get things fixed, instead of trying to work through them:

Friction is the difficulty we encounter when we need service.
Tweet: Friction is the difficulty we encounter when we need service. @HDI_Analyst @ThinkHDI #techsupport #custserv

“If I call the service desk, it becomes my problem, even if it isn’t. I call and say that the printer in this area is broken. Now there’s a ticket in my name, and I have to go check the printer and let the service desk know if it’s working after I get email telling me it’s fixed, and then I get a survey in my inbox. It wasn’t my problem—it was a broken printer down the hall—but it becomes my problem.”

Add to this the time spent waiting in a phone queue, or getting a chat started, or filling out a web form. The effort involved in getting the printer fixed is greater than the effort of walking the extra distance to the next closest printer, and so the end user never calls or otherwise contacts support.

The same holds true when the issue is something annoying but relatively minor with the person’s laptop, phone, or tablet. An employee may hobble along for months with a broken keyboard, jumpy mouse, cracked screen, or crashing app without reporting it.

If a customer or user has negative feelings about support, she/he is far less likely to contact you, of course. If the experience was miserable the last time the user mentioned above tried to get attention on a printer issue, how likely is she to try again? Not very. Customers can lose confidence in the support center for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to:

  • Incorrect information
  • Inconsistent information
  • Lack of empathy, especially for a sense of urgency
  • Length of time to get an issue addressed
  • Assigning blame to the user
  • Concentration on process rather than people
  • A history of getting No for an answer

One way to improve this phenomenon and reduce the friction is to use the Customer Effort Score (CES). The score is based on a single question, of which there are many variations: How easy was it to get your issue resolved? Although there are varying ways to rate it, the simplest is a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being very difficult and 5 being not difficult at all. When you receive a very low score, you can follow up with that individual and see what made it difficult for them, just as you would follow up with someone who gave you a very low customer satisfaction score.

The best way to avoid making it difficult for your customers and users is to do as much as you can to prevent things from going wrong in the first place, of course. But that is not always possible. When the broken printer turns out to be broken because the maintenance crew smacked it with a heavy hand truck, thereby breaking the feed trays, there isn’t anything in your monitoring or self-healing systems that can help you.

The whole question of being difficult to deal with goes straight to the heart of customer experience. Understanding what the customer goes through and how they feel about it at every stage is an important part of improvement.

You can read more about customer experience in the technical support context in these articles on SupportWorld. Meanwhile, seek out those who haven’t contacted support in the past six months, and ask them why. It’s a good proactive step to help end the suffering in silence.


Roy Atkinson Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as senior writer/analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.


Tag(s): supportworld, support center, customer experience, metrics and measurements

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